Report from Ciaron. Some observations from David.
Wed June 19th will mark a year since WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London seeking sanctuary. The Ecuadorian government was immediately threatened in private correspondence from British Foreign Minister Hague with the loss of diplomatic status and a consequent raid. The Ecuadorian government made the private threat public, held their ground and conducted an inquiry into the Assange case. This was the same government that had previously responded to a U.S. request for a U.S. military base in Ecuador with, “if you let us have an Ecuadorian base in Florida?”
During this period of inquiry, the London Met were deployed in large numbers around the embassy with 30 police stationed there 24/7. Anti-War, human rights, Latino, Veterans for Peace, Catholic Worker, Occupy and other activists maintained a solidarity vigil at the embassy.
Following the completion of the Ecuadorian inquiry and the formal granting of asylum for Julian Assange in August 2012, the Met bobbies left to be replaced by 10 members of the Diplomatic Protection section of the Met and a police conference van permanently parked. This 24/7 police presence has been maintained for the past year at a cost of 4 million quid. On a significantly smaller budget, a daily vigil of solidarity activists has been sustained (presently 4-6pm).
Sunday June 16th. 2013 was chosen as a time to mobilise as Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino was to visit Julian Assange before his meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague the following day.
The first sight that greeted activists on exiting the Knighstbridge tube station was Sue and Roland’s motor home transformed into the “Free Tea, Free Assange” takeaway. The caboose was parked next to an exclusive Gran Cafe facing Harrods, serving folks throughout the afternoon.
We started setting up banners and were soon joined by the Ecuadorian community.
Support grew to about 130+ by about 4pm. Word came through that the foreign minister had been delayed with an ETA of 6.30pm. We were blessed with fine weather and settled in for the duration. Fortunately, John McClean had brought his guitar! Songs alternated between an Aussie / Kiwi combo and the Ecuadorian community.
In breaks between songs, media interviews were conducted and the Ecuadorian folks led us in chanting. At 6.30 the Ecuadorian foreign minister arrived waving to the crowd and entered the embassy. Singing resumed and after a while curtains were drawn back and Ricardo Patino and Julian Assange appeared at the window of the embassy. Between us and them were the London Metropolitan Police, mainstream media and a sealed U.S. Grand Jury indictment for the WikiLeaks founder.
In other places, Jeremy Hammond and Bradley Manning are already in chains, Edward Snowden is hotly pursued by the same powers. The courage of these people, the WikiLeaks crew and the Ecuadorian people inspires us all. Hopefully such courage and solidarity is contagious. The world literally depends on its transmission. If that sunny afternoon on a sidewalk in Knightsbridge/London with the Ecuadorian community and friends is anything to go by, it’s worth the effort.
More photos from BradleyLibero.
by Ciaron O’Reilly
And some other observations on the day (David):
What strikes you about these landmark gatherings in Hans Crescent is the fantastic community feel, bringing together so many diverse people, and the pride and passion of the Ecuadorians for the brave and principled stance taken by their government. People from so many countries – literally too many to recount – were gathered with folks from Occupy and Anonymous, WikiLeaks supporters, Women Against Rape, again publicly supporting Julian Assange, Veterans for Peace, Queer Strike and many others. A couple of Ecuadorians had travelled over from Sweden to show solidarity on the day. And within this cheerful mass, vigil stalwarts and familiar Bradley Manning supporters. But also, crucially, some folks, individuals, who said they just wanted to come down and show support; that Julian deserved and needed support.
There were delays and sometimes a little confusion but it really didn’t matter or bother anyone. Talk in the week on social media had expressed concern for Julian’s health, principally the effects of lack of sunlight and vitamin D. Fittingly, on this day the sun shone brightly to raise everyone’s spirits – some even helped out by holding mirrors to reflect sunlight into the windows across the road! A bit of a wheeze, but this is a valid concern which should continue to be highlighted as the governments of Sweden, UK and Australia continue to sit willfully on their hands.
And as this strange street party rolled on, a lone Swedish journalist crept about, sidling up to elicit negativity. Were we disappointed that things were late? Would it be a let down if Julian didn’t speak? No. Que sera sera. We were happy to be here. He got nothing and slithered away to the periphery.
As ambassador Alban arrived – to great cheers – the numbers of police suddenly began to grow. Several van loads decamped in time for FM Patino’s arrival. Significant, symbolic and the target of plenty of ribald comments from the most peaceful bunch of onlookers you could ever hope to meet.
And so FM Patino and Julian appeared in solidarity. Fantastic, constant, chorus of “Julian, amigo, el puebla esta contigo!” from us across the street, and around this din and scrum of press, the shoppers of Knightsbridge, already standing and snapping in curiosity, edged closer for a better peek. After a few moments, the curtains dropped back.
Down to the serious talking and a long night ahead, as FM Patino apparently posted this picture via Twitter at 4:30 in the morning:
Great solidarity after a long year. In Hans Crescent there is unity and strength in the folks that come together to face the embassy. From the passers-by, the tourists and shoppers, there is, I feel, a reassuring amount of support – a general sense that something in the Assange case “isn’t right” – you hear that a lot. As Sunday 16th June surely inspired and energised us, maybe others who witnessed it will feel moved, empowered to come and stand alongside.
Support the whistleblowers! Support the truth-tellers! Thank you Ecuador!